Bear with me: Thoughts on Malcolm X

brand_bio_bio-shorts_malcolm-x-mini-biography_0_172236_sf_hd_768x432-16x9When I was in the seventh grade, I bought a Malcolm X baseball cap.

I had it no idea what it was or what it meant. (I wear a Baltimore Orioles cap now. I couldn’t tell you one player. I just like the big black and orange bird.) This wasn’t the black hat with a white X on it like Spike Lee wore, either. It had what I would later learn were Pan-African colors — red, yellow and green. If I remember correctly, the X was black. Full regalia.

A kid in class asked me why I was wearing a Malcolm X hat, and this was my extremely white, middle class reply:

“Who is Malcolm X?”

I let the question about why I was wearing a Malcolm X hat slide to the murky depths of my mind. Here I was, a white kid sporting a hat paying homage to a civil rights icon whose existence I was gleefully unaware of. In public school, at least mine, they taught you about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but I had never heard of Malcolm X.

It was about a month later when I was strolling through Target with my family and, behold, there it was, sitting on a rack at the end of an aisle — “The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley.” I had about 10 bucks to my name and pulled a copy off the shelf and took it home.

It was a fascinating read. Malcolm Little, born in Omaha, Neb., wound up in Harlem where he sold drugs and straightened his hair with a mixture of lye and potatoes so it would look more like a white man’s hair, a “conk.” Malcolm found himself in prison, where he converted to Islam and fell in with the Nation of Islam, which regarded white people as devils. He became involved in Civil Rights. Eventually, he made the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Haj, and saw blue-eyed, blond-haired Muslims. This softened his views on race somewhat.

It was and still is the longest book I ever read. And I didn’t finish it. As I approached the end, I learned from another source, possibly the movie, that this man I had come to admire so much was shot dead by his own people. I just couldn’t bring myself to read that part.

Tuesday marked the 52nd anniversary of his assassination. I’ve been thinking about him lately, for two reasons. One, this country is currently brimming with hatred of Muslims. They are the other. They are foreign. But here was one from Omaha. (Not to mention a lot of those rappers who have enriched your lives throughout the years.)

Two, Americans love a good humble origin story, and a lot of people lie about theirs. This one is real. This man came from nothing and made something of himself.

The book was the richest reading experience of my life so far. I have no idea what happened to the hat.

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The Tiny Hand: A Tirade about the Girl Scouts of America

An insidious organized crime family has taken over street corners across the country. Its members strike fear into the heart of this columnist. They are a scourge. They are ruthless. They are 5 feet tall.

I’m talking, of course, about the Girl Scouts of America and their nefarious cookie racket. The Tiny Hand (mafia joke).

The following are excerpts from actual tirades. In order to stay in line with my take on reality, they are mostly fictional. The resigned bemusement of my girlfriend is real. Yes, I have a problem with cute 8-year-olds.

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“There they are, the little bastards,” I grumbled as I drove north on Colorado Boulevard toward brunch.

“Who?” my girlfriend asked.

“Who do you think? Girl Scouts. They set up in front of stores, and you can’t get inside.”

“Oh my god, you are so grumpy!”

“You know, I got threatened by one once.”

“Uh-huh,” she said, retreating into her Snapchat.

“Yeah, I was walking into a Wal-Mart in Alamogordo and a Girl Scout asked me if I wanted to buy a box.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“So I said, ‘No, I’m here to buy groceries.’ She said, ‘Gee, it seems like it would be hard to shop with a broke arm.'”

“That didn’t happen, John.”

“I swear to god.”

“No.”gsa2.jpg

“Hand to Jesus?”

“Nope.”

“Fine. Don’t believe me.”

“OK.”

We parked on a side street and walked to our trendy brunch location on Colfax Avenue. There was quite a wait, so we took our seats on a bench in front of the restaurant. Within minutes, two more smock-clad foot soldiers set up a card table and started slinging boxes of cookies. We briefly discussed the ethics of a Girl Scout troop setting up shop in front of a marijuana dispensary.

I resumed.

“It’s just, like, why can’t they go door to door like when I was a kid?” I asked no one in particular.

“Because you were a kid in the 1940s, haha,” my girlfriend replied. She is 13 years my junior, so old jokes please her immensely.

“Haha. You still didn’t answer me.”

“Because there are serial killers, and kids can’t go door to door anymore.”

“Ugh, the world is going to hell. Still. They bug me.”

“You are such a grouch.”

I muttered something unintelligible. I crossed my arms across my chest. I glanced over at the card table. My eyes narrowed.

“I’ll be right back,” I said, walking to the table.

“Yes, sir,” a sandy-haired girl of about 9 said.

“Yeah, give me a box of Samoas, please.”

“That will be $4.”

I produced my wallet and handed her a 10-dollar bill. She put the bill into a shoebox and started to make change. She paused, looked up at me.

“You sure you don’t want two boxes,” she asked.

I smiled.

“No, just the one box will be fine.”

She handed me my $6 in change. I smiled. That’s how they get you.